Saturday, September 29, 2012

Reading left and right

In about five weeks, we will choose a president and thus determine the overall direction we as a nation will take in the coming four years.  This is always a significant decision because it has with real consequences, both for all of us and for the many, many people around the globe who have no say but are nonetheless affected by the outcome.  Even so, one might suggest that this election is all-the-more important because we find ourselves at such a pivotal time in our history as a nation.  I do not have to tell you that we are facing serious challenges: unemployment, climate change, violent extremism, personal and national debt. Well-intentioned and intelligent people have different answers to address these and many other challenges. Because the stakes are so high, some of these disagreements can become quite heated. 

Most likely, you know people who hold vastly differing convictions on various issues.  These perspectives may be reflected in some of the books they read, and the books they may recommend to you.
For example, some of my more conservative associates have recommended Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand.  This epic novel is, in essence, a parable of the pitfalls of socialism and the merits of free enterprise (Rand's family was forced to leave Russia when the Bolsheviks overthrew the government and dismantled her father's successful business).  Rand provides a necessary reminder of the importance of personal responsibility.  She has created a vivid portrait of socialism's dystopian potential.

Having read Rand's novel, you may become convinced (as some people are) that the government is more a source of problems than of solutions, that if only government would get out of the way and let people (particularly, business people) go about their business unimpeded by unnecessary regulation, then all would be well.  For an alternate perspective on the merits of unregulated free enterprise, I would suggest reading Upton Sinclair's novel, The Jungle.  Sinclair tells the story of an immigrant family that finds itself caught up in the de-humanizing world of the early twentieth century Chicago meat packing industry (if you are at all inclined to become a vegetarian, this book may convince you).  Just as Rand's novel provides a warning against neglecting personal responsibility, Sinclair's novel is a vivid portrayal of the evils of unmitigated greed. 

It is not my place, or desire to tell you how to think, or to suggest which author's vision of reality (and suggested alternative) is more compelling.  I will, however, exhort you to read thought-compelling books that reflect alternate perspectives as a way of fostering empathy and critical thinking.


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